What will happen “when words fail” for Samuel Beckett’s heroine in Happy Days, or when she can’t “speak in the old style?” Goodness only knows, but she certainly has a lot to say before either of those things happen.
Winnie, played delightfully by Delia Taylor, is an eternally optimistic chatterbox who seems to be afraid of being alone or not having a companion to talk to. She discusses her daily (and monotonous) routine, her hopes and fears, and old memories. The catch is, Winnie can’t move because she is buried up to her waist in a massive, luxurious mound of “dirt.”
In an interesting twist in WSC Avant Bard’s production, Set Designer Tony Cisek actually and cleverly makes the mound in which she’s entrapped – the skirt of her dress. It manages to look amazingly silky and velvety all at once, with assistance from Costume Designer Marie Schneggenburger’s clever props, and some fantastic Lighting Design by Cory Ryan Frank.
The only other character in the show is her husband Willie, wonderfully played by director Jose Carrasquillo. The audience only sees the back of his head, and he says little more than a few quips and monosyllabic grunts. However, he gives Winnie a reason to keep talking by providing a listening ear, as well as giving the audience some extra comic relief. Winnie has only Willie, her words, and her big black bag to keep her occupied.
We never find out why Winnie is stuck in the mound, but it’s not particularly important in this absurdist play. What is central is that she is lonely and has a desperate need for companionship, even if she doesn’t say it outright. Ms. Taylor brings a great cheerfulness to the character, and it drives Winnie’s complexity throughout the whole production. The entire play is almost a monologue, and despite—or because of being immobile – Ms. Taylor makes extensive use of her hands and quirky facial expressions. Her acting is natural and honest, and she makes Beckett’s compelling – though sometimes chaotic- language flow freely and easily.
The Black Box Theatre is the perfect space for such an intimate performance. While the plotline may be a bit mundane, Mr. Carrasquillo’s fresh approach to Happy Days, complete with a billboard-esque blue sky and clouds backdrop, is a lovely way to celebrate Beckett’s 50th anniversary production.
Running time is about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Happy Days plays through September 25th at Artisphere – 1101 Wilson Boulevard, in Arlington, VA. Purchase tickets here.